As we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, let’s take a minute to highlight a Black women owned, independent bookstore right here in Kansas City. Bliss Books & Wine is owned and operated by sisters La’Nesha Frazier and La’Nae Robinson. While there is not currently a brick and mortar location to visit, customers can shop the online store and participate in virtual book club discussions. The Wines and Spines book club meets on the first Wednesday of each month. Keep reading to learn more about La’Nesha and La’Nae and the story behind why they wanted to open Bliss Books & Wine.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month to me [La’Nae] is a celebration of the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the United States. It is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on this particular portion of the American story that is oftentimes overlooked in the telling of our history. I was fortunate enough to attend an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) where we were submerged in the greatness of our heritage and basked in the triumphs of the African diaspora. My HBCU enabled me to recognize the accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history, in our present and towards our future. While the evolution of this celebration from Negro History Week to Black History Month is admirable, it is my hope that we eventually get to a place where we celebrate Black History, and all history, 365 days a year.
What made you want to open a bookstore?
I’ve [La’Nae] always had a love for reading. I would be the first to race to the shelves during Library time at school, returning many times before my books were due to switch them out. I would also beg my mother to take me to the Kansas City Public Libraries so that I could add more to my pile. My mother was a reader, so I looked to her as my bookworm compass. I even had my own lending library in my parents’ basement where friends and family had to “check-out” my books. That should have been my first indication of the future to come! La’Nesha did not develop her love for reading until much later in life, but when she fell, she fell hard. Bliss Books & Wine was actually her idea. She was searching for a quiet oasis to read and enjoy a glass of wine before returning to reality. When she could not find a solution, she decided to create her own.
You encourage the Bliss community to “Read, Sip, & Relax”. What are you reading currently? Sipping currently?
I am currently reading “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng for our online book club. The opening line was enough to make me grab a nice red; a 2018 Olema Pinot Noir.
What books are on your TBR “to be read” list?
So many books! “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama, “Just As I Am” by Cicely Tyson, “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House” by Cherie Jones, “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, “Small Ball Big Results” by Joel Goldberg, “While Justice Sleeps” by Stacey Abrams, “The Push” by Ashley Audrain, “Love In Color” by Bolu Babalola and “Life After Death” by Sister Souljah. Just to name a few.
What thing are you are most excited for in 2021?
We’re looking forward to the world opening up again in 2021. With that, we hope to resume our search for a brick-and-mortar store, and in the meantime host our pop-up events again.
What are some of the ways we as consumers/customers can best support your business?
Support comes in many forms and does not always have to be financial. Engagement is always great; following social media accounts, liking, commenting, sharing, being active members of our community. Although we have not been able to meet face-to-face over the past year, we have built quite an online following which has been fantastic. We chat with so many of our community members daily. Customers can also sign up for our weekly newsletter and our new 2021 Bliss Reading Challenge. Our members are having a blast with that one! And then of course, there is purchasing books, merchandise, and gift cards from our online shop. We also have a donations link if anyone is inclined to do so.
Working with a sibling can bring its own set of challenges. What strengths do you each bring to the table that make this a successful working relationship?
We tend to fall into our lifelong roles when working on the business. I [La’Nae] am the oldest and I have been known to tell her what to do (I’m trying to do better!). I am also a trained engineer and consultant, so I view things logically and look at the overall lifecycle of projects. I also chose a career in computers because I enjoy being behind the scenes, so I naturally took on most of the technical and management pieces. La’Nesha is more social and enjoys interacting with a crowd. Bliss Books & Wine is also her brainchild, so she is able to relay her vision in a very passionate way. Being the youngest, she is also able to tell me when I am being too rigid and when to try a new direction. She is also pretty bossy herself!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your store?
I wish that we knew about all the resources that are available to small businesses, as well as how much support that we have in Kansas City and across the country. That people are rooting for us and are willing to help in any way that they can. All we have to do is open our mouths and ask. We don’t have to do this alone.
With everything that 2020 threw at you, what was your biggest takeaway and how has it influenced your approach to business?
2020 was interesting to say the least. It taught us that it is not always enough to just have a Plan B, but also a Plan C, D, E and F. It was quite a scary and chaotic year, but it forced us to accept imperfection, be creative and nimble, and to also be grateful for the little things and small wins.